North American tractor sales made a relatively slow start prior to the spring selling season, while combine sales remained strong, according to the latest sales figures released by the Assn. of Equipment Manufacturers on April 10.

"Row-crop tractor sales declined 7% year-over-year while 4WD sales fell 14% in seasonally important March," RW Baird analyst Robert McCarthy says in his summary to investors.

"Combine sales remained strong — up 39% — though March is seasonally less important for combine demand. Inventories generally remained tight for combines and 4WD tractors, while row-crop tractor inventories continued to increase. Risk to manufacturers' production schedules appears to be growing."

March is the first of two seasonally important months for row-crop and 4WD tractor sales, and accounted for 11% of annual sales for each over the past 5 years.

• Row-crop tractor sales fell 7% in March compared with a 14% decline in February.

• 4WD sales declined 14% in March, a sharp reversal from the double-digit increases over the past 4 months. Sales are still up 5% in the last 3-month period.

• Combine sales increased 39% year-over-year compared with the 46% increase in February. Unit sales are up 33% in the last 3-month period. Combine sales are typically seasonally weak through June, and March typically represents less than 6% of annual sales.

• Comparisons for compact and mid-range tractors remained extremely weak, falling 25% and 24% year-over-year, respectively.

• Inventories for 4WD tractors and combines declined 22% and 13% on a days-sales basis, and absolute inventory levels were down 7% and up 5% year-over-year. Row-crop tractor inventories increased 28% year-over-year, which was their fourth consecutive year-over-year increase.